The Cortland Crush are watching their lead in the New York Collegiate Baseball League Eastern Division shrinking, and you can blame the Syracuse Junior Chiefs for that.
Since the Junior Chiefs snapped the Crush’s 11-game winning steak on June 16, the visitors from Syracuse have won two of three Greg’s Field meetings including Friday night’s heated 12-8 triumph.
Cortland’s once comfortable first place lead is now down to two and one-half games. The Crush are now 15-5 while the Junior Chiefs climbed back into second place at at 14-9.
Cortland is 7-4 at home this season and a robust 8-1 on the road, with the Crush traveling to face Western Division leader Olean this afternoon at 1 p.m.
Against the Junior Chiefs, Cortland took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning on an error, passed ball and sacrifice fly by David Murphy.
Syracuse was not fazed and came back with three runs in the second inning despite a base-running blunder.
Zachary Smith walked and Webb Little singled to get things started off Cortland starter Clayton Jeffries. Joe DeLuca hit a hit flyball that Derek Martin just missed as the ball caromed off the right field wall. DeLuca got a single on the play, but because both runners held up to make sure the ball wasn’t caught DeLuca was eventually out on the play. Martin fired the ball to Jeffries, who ran DeLuca back to first base after he nearly reached second base before realizing teammate Little was standing there.
Jeffries then flipped to ball to first baseman George Haaland for the tag on DeLuca.
Unfortunately, the next three batters walked with Anthony Seminaris and Alexander Ferlenda forcing in runs to put the Junior Chiefs up 2-1. John Militano singled home the third run before Jeffries struck out Nicholas Roy and Sam Little to end the inning.
The Crush immediately took the lead back off Syracuse starter Brian Markowski with three runs in the bottom of the second.
Josh Lopez led off with a single and George Haaland walked. Anthony Searles followed with a single and a throwing error allowed Lopez to score as the two other runners each advanced an extra base.With one out Greg Mula singled home Haaland to tie the game at 3-3. With runners at the corners, Brody Santilli hit a sacrifice fly to score Searles for a 4-3 Crush lead.
Paul Ludden added an RBI single and the Crush held a 5-3 advantage.
After Jeffries retired the Junior Chiefs in order in the top of the third, Cortland got an insurance run when Lopez reached on an error, stole second base and scored o a Searles single for a 6-3 lead.
After a triple and a walk, Jeffries’ night came to an end. Andrew Cartier came on in relief to shutdown the Syracuse threat.
Markowski suffered the same fate after back-to-back walks opened the bottom of the fourth inning as Joe DiNizio came to the mound in a relief role.
The momentum shifted in the fifth inning when the Junior Chiefs scored four runs with two outs. DeLuca hit an RBI double with two runners on base and Conner Lafferty followed with a three-run homer to left field as the Junior Chiefs took a 7-6 lead.
DiNizio retired nine of 11 batters hit faced through the sixth inning as the Crush offense stalled. He got help with a sacrifice fly by Roy off Crush reliever Blake DeMeter push the Syracuse lead to 8-6. A bases loaded walk by DeMeter in the top of the seventh came the Junior Chiefs a 9-6 cushion.
Things got interesting on the bottom of the eight inning when Haaland was hit in the head by a Kevin Soriano pitch which emptied both benches. Haaland was walking towards the mound after being hit for the second time in the game by was restrained before anything further happened.
Soriano then walked Searles and was pulled in favor of Deaven Phillips. After getting an infield fly rule pop-out and a strikeout, Phillips hit Santilli to load the bases. Phillips walked Ludden to force in Haaland and he was replaced on the hill by Morgan Wilson. He promptly walked Murphy to force in another run and pull the Crush to within 9-8.
Wilson got Derek Martin to ground out to end the Crush threat.
Matt McCuen came in the pitch in the ninth inning for the Crush and he was greeted by a Webb Little single, the fourth hit by the Ithaca College sophomore and Syracuse CBA grad. DeLuca doubled when Joey Assenza lost the ball in the lights and Lafferty walked to load the bases. A wild pitch scored Little as the other runners moved up one base.
Seminaris then fought off several two-strike pitches before getting a single into centerfield that scored DeLuca and Lafferty for a 12-8 Junior Chiefs advantage. Seminaris was picked off first base for the first out of the inning and McCuen got a strikeout for the second out.
McCuen gave up a pair of singles and another walk to reload the bases which then set up the most intriguing match-up of the night.
Santilli had been the designated hitter for the Crush and Cortland coach Bill McConnell send him to the mound for the first time this year. The Salve Regina University sophomore would be facing Smith, his roommate and teammate at Salve Regina.
Smith hit a shot back to the mound that deflected off Santilli’s glove right to shortstop Martin who flipped the ball to second baseman Patrick Messinger for the force out to end the inning. The two college teammates joked after the at bat and during the post-game mingling about who won the match-up.
Of course, each guy said he won it.
Syracuse’s Joseph DiTorrice II came on a retired the Crush in order to end the game.
After facing Olean today, the Crush are back home Sunday for a 3 p.m. game against the Sherrill Silversmiths at Greg’s Field.